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Obama moves to overhaul 'war on terror' practices

In three executive orders signed Thursday, he departs sharply from Bush's policies on Guantanamo, CIA prisons, and harsh interrogation tactics.

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The US Supreme Court has agreed to examine the legality of his ongoing detention. The case is expected to be set for oral argument in March or April and be decided by late June. It marks the most significant Supreme Court test yet of the Bush administration’s controversial legal approach to the war on terror.

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At issue in the case is whether the president has the power to designate a legal US resident, which Mr. al-Marri was at the time of his apprehension, as an enemy combatant and order that person held indefinitely in military detention. The Obama administration has asked the high court for a 30-day extension to file its brief, and the president’s memo directs US officials to “undertake a prompt and thorough review of the factual and legal basis for al-Marri’s continued detention.” The memo says the officials should “identify and thoroughly evaluate alternative dispositions.”

Al-Marri’s lawyer, Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union, says he is hopeful the Obama administration will reject the legal position of the Bush administration. He says the new administration should release his client and allow him to return home to his family in Qatar.

“Any objective and clear-minded review will show that this detention is illegal,” Mr. Hafetz says. “We fully expect that if the Obama administration goes forward [with the case], Al-Marri’s detention will be struck down by the Supreme Court.”

In statements from human rights experts, Obama won high praise for his fast action on Guantanamo and banning torture.

“America’s greatest strengths – our core values – are once again clear to the world,” said Douglas Johnson, executive director of the Center for Victims of Torture.

Jennifer Kaskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, called it “a major step toward restoring America’s moral authority around the world.”

Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, praised Obama for “moving quickly to restore the United States’ role as a positive force for human rights in the world.” He added, “With a stroke of a pen, President Obama initiated this nation’s return to the rule of law.”

Not all analysts were pleased with Obama’s moves.

House Republican Leader John Boehner warned that the new policies and closing Guantanamo might place the country in peril. “The Guantanamo Bay prison is filled with the worst of the worst – terrorists and killers bent on murdering Americans and other friends of freedom around the world,” he said in a statement. “If it is closed, where will they go?”

Mr. Boehner added, “Republicans want to work with our president to address these national security concerns, but we should not gamble with the safety and security of the American people and our troops on the battlefield.”